Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Month: March 2016

Adéu

The time for us to take leave of Barcelona has come. I will miss Barcelona, especially: patatas bravas, cheap beer & wine, sunshine all year round, the €10 3-course lunch menus, the whole of the Gracia neighborhood, speaking Spanish on a regular basis, being able to sit at a restaurant for hours without getting kicked out, fresh produce in dozens of stores walking distance away, the well-connected Spanish train system, the randomly-specific small shops, and the general laid-backness of the Spanish culture.

Among all my emotions, the overriding one right now is gratitude. I’m so thankful for all the adventures of the last year. I’m thankful for the expansive landscapes I saw that made me feel small, and the small moments with strangers that made me feel significant. I’m thankful for the old friends who I got to share new adventures with, and the new friends who showed me what living out your dream looks like. I’m thankful to have reached new depths in my relationship to Grant, and new heights in my relationship with myself.

And more than anything, I’m thankful that this is not an end. It’s just a new door to walk through. I’m carrying this love and gratitude with me.

Here’s a photo-slideshow toast to some of my favorite memories of the last year. ¡Salud!

¡Adéu, Barça!

The best of…

As our year in Europe wounds down, we took a moment to reflect on things we would recommend to others. Here’s our best-of list!

Best by destination type

Up-and-coming: Lisbon, Portugal

Romantic get-a-way: Bruges, Belgium

Friendliest people: tie Edinburgh, Scotland and Lisbon, Portugal

Budget-friendly: Budapest, Hungary (the currency exchange will test your math abilities, though!)


Best by activity/site

Hike: Chocolate-cheese trail from Broc to Gruyeres (official site and blog)

Food tour: tie Lisbon’s Eat Portugal food tours (site) and Les Pastras truffle hunting in Provence, France (site)

Multi-day tour: Top Desert trip to the Merzouga Dunes in Morocco (site)

Festival: tie Munich’s Oktoberfest and Valencia’s Las Fallas

Market: tie Marrakech, Morocco souks and Portobello Rd Market in London

Street art: Bristol, UK

Park: Gulliver’s Park in the Turia Riverbed in Valencia, Spain (site)

Bike ride: Bruges, Belgium to Damme along the canal (best in Fall)

Hotel: tie Hotel Iglú in Andorra (site) and the Red Rock’s House in Miravet (site)

Castle: tie Carcassonne, France (site) and Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal (site)

Bridge: Puento Nuevo in Ronda, Spain (site)

Lake: Lake Como, Italy

Pastry: Nata (Portugal) (eclairs from Fauchon in Paris were a close second)


Best of Barcelona

Lunch: Amelie on the Placa de Vila de Gracia square (site)

Dinner: La Pubilla (site)

Brunch: Flax and Kale (site)

Patatas bravas: Elsa y Fred (site)

Sangria: Casa Lolea (site)

Cava: Can Paixano (site)

Cocktails: La Confitería (site)

Festival: Festa Major de Gracia (site)

Viewpoint: Bunkers of Carmel (site)

Rooftop bar: Majestic Hotel

Beach: Montgat Beach (don’t forget to check out the inflatable water park there – site)

Underrated architecture site: Sant Pau Hospital (site)

Concert venue: Check the La Pedrera website for rooftop concerts offered in the summertime or Classictic for classical concerts in old gothic churches around the city

Neighborhood: Vila de Gracia (metro stop Fontana, walk down Calle Verdi) [also Sarria is a good choice, walk down Carrer Major de Sarria)]

Souvenir shop: Inside College of Architects of Catalonia (site)

Day trip: tie Montserrat and Girona

Medieval village in Catalonia: tie Besalu and Castellfollit de la Roca

Dish to try: Galician Style Octopus

Door photos

Excerpt from “Doors opening, closing on us” by Marge Piercy:

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal…

door-photos-final

Hiya, you alright?

…that’s the greeting we got throughout the UK, and the phrase we got to hear Grant parrot in his British accent. As it turns out, this is a thing: Reddit discussion

We were so excited to meet Grant’s parents, Susan and Dean, for a whirlwind tour around the UK! It had been so long since we had seen them, that it was great to catch up in person AND make new memories. I consider myself very blessed to have them as my in-law’s, as they have always made me feel welcome and a part of the family since the first time I met them.

They also got to visit with us at a unique time: when we were making plans (or deftly avoiding making plans) for the future. We had the delight of celebrating both Susan’s and my birthday during the trip. I couldn’t have asked for a better taste of the UK (although it left me wanting to see more of Scotland!).

Bath

Our first stop on the itinerary was Bath. My favorite photo from the entire trip is the first group photo we took together at the Fashion Museum in Bath:

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^The men look quite dashing, although I doubt I’ll be shopping for a bonnet anytime soon.

The first few days we took a tower tour of the cathedral, toured the Roman Baths, and did a free walking tour around the city.

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^The competition for the best instagram shot was fierce among this crowd!

Day trip to Stonehenge, Avebury Circle, and the Cotswolds

Susan arranged a wonderful guided tour that showed us an interesting part of the countryside around Bath. What stuck with me the most from the tour was thatched roofs. I know that sounds funny, but there are these elaborate, beautiful thatched-roof houses in the small towns along the way. Each “thatcher” has a signature animal on top of the roof to advertise his services. I had no idea that the protection of these homes and their historic art was so strict.

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We walked around Stonehenge and Avebury Circle (another prehistoric stone circle where you can actually touch the stones). Susan and I were disappointed to learn that the stones had been touched and re-arranged to reflect the position in which they were found. There are a lot of stones missing, and a projection of what Stonehenge would be like with all of them made it seem like that would be a totally different experience.

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Bristol

We stopped by Bristol for one night at my request. I had read from blogs about some really cool street art and funky shopping. Bristol totally lived up to my expectations! We did a little shopping (where I got a birthday treat for myself), ate pretty darn good burritos in a bus truck (take that, food trucks!), saw some crazy street art, and went to a shop where they create funky/modern designs on surplus china.

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York

Then we were off to cute York! I really enjoyed the size of York, and I thought the architecture of some of the old streets was really cute.

Our first night we attended Evensong at York Minster. Evensong was just absolutely beautiful. The sermon was actually very relevant, too. I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) to see how similar the Anglican service was to a Catholic service (there were some “God save the queen” ‘s thrown in there though).

In a complete change of pace, we went on a ghost tour that evening, too. Our tour guide was quite quirky (as you might expect). It gave us a good overview of the history of York, though.

The next morning we did a walking tour that took us along the old city walls.

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Grant was chomping at the bit to go to the National Rail Museum, so we spent the afternoon there. The coolest part was seeing the old train cars for royalty! I never thought I’d see a bathtub in a train car.

That evening, we went to check out this event recommended to us by our B&B owner. Apparently, the York Philharmonic Men’s Choir practices on Monday nights and then goes to a local bar to socialize and sing a bit more. As soon as Susan, Dean, and I stepped in the door to the bar, we were surrounded by the choir. One member was very friendly to us and introduced us to the family of another member, who we sat with. One of the oldest men (and the guy who seemed to be the ringleader) kept singing in Susan’s and mine direction especially and acting out a bit. They even sang some American tunes because we were their “special guests.” I’ve never felt so special and welcome in my life! It was truly inspiring to see the community these men had formed over generations, and to see these people pursuing their passion so vehemently.

Edinburgh

Northern still we headed! Since we had about half a day in Edinburgh, we all downloaded the Rick Steve (or Ricky Steve as Grant calls him) walking tour down the Royal Mile. That gave us a crash course of the sites.

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As it was Susan’s birthday, we found a Mexican restaurant (with fajitas!). I think Grant and I were much more impressed by the Mexican food than Susan and Dean (we’ve been deprived for too long!). Grant joked that we should order haggis fajitas.

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We explored the Edinburgh Castle in much more detail the next day and got to re-visit places on the Royal Mile that we wanted to explore in more detail.

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We stayed at the castle until 1pm, when the huge cannon you see above fired a shot. It originally fired a shot so everyone could calibrate the time, but they’ve kept up the tradition.

IMG_1984Then we headed on to do some light shopping. We stopped in at a kilt shop, where the owner looked up the Marvin tartan for us and also showed us a Texas tartan (I had never seen that before!). I was surprised by how friendly people were in Edinburgh, and I really liked the size of the town.

 

 

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Last, all four of us did whisky tasting together. I must say, I don’t usually like whisky, but this stuff was pretty good! We had a whisky connoisseur talk us through the various regions and different types of whiskies.

 

 

 

We got to see a folk music band play that evening in this small, intimate bar. The band was really amazing, and I felt my mind just drifting away in the nostalgic tunes of the violin, guitar, and piano.

Our last day in Edinburgh, we split up. Susan and Dean went North to St. Andrews, and Grant and I stuck around Edinburgh, where we went to Arthur’s Seat at Holyrood Park. Such beautiful views for a park right inside the city!

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London

Our last stop on the UK tour was London! It was such a contrast from Edinburgh to get off the train in London to a hustlin’ bustlin’ crowd. I was excited this trip to discover different parts of London than just the main sites. We stayed in South Kensington, with its symmetrical streets lined with white houses. It was quite stunning, even on the overcast days!

Our first evening in London, we completed a WWII-themed escape game! See the photo at the top of this blog post (a close second as favorite photo of this trip). We worked as a team and solved the puzzles to get out just in the nick of time!

IMG_2104The next day in London was my birthday. Grant was just the sweetest, making sure to spoil me. We walked around colorful Portobello Road in Notting Hill, grazing on bubble tea and hot cross buns.

Susan and Dean also spoiled me by treating us to dinner and Kinky Boots the musical that evening! I felt very loved. Also, Kinky Boots was really hilarious. I was in tears of laughter during one of the songs (Ohhhh Charliiieeeee…)

 

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^Luckily, we made dinner and show after meeting at two different locations of the same restaurant. Whoops, that one was on me!

IMG_2143We got to explore the Tower of London and the Imperial War Museum together the next day. Not the lightest subjects! But well-done sites all the same.

 

 

 

IMG_3992That was the evening of fish-opalypse. I ordered the “small” portion of a seafood sampler and you can see just how “small” that was. Uhhh, challenge accepted?

 

 

 

 

On our last day in London, Grant and I explored Shoreditch (the hipster neighborhood in London). Then all of us met for high tea in the afternoon. High tea was quite the experience with huge towers of scones and fancy diningware. I was so excited to enjoy tea together and felt very English!

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We were sad to say goodbye to Susan and Dean for the time being, but mostly we were so grateful we got to share this experience with them! We love you, Susan and Dean!

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